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5 Strength Exercises for Women To Get Firm & Lean in Their 40s

Sculpt a fitter, more defined body with these trainer-approved moves.
FACT CHECKED BY Justine Goodman

An incredibly common misconception about strength training with weights is that it can make you look "bulky." Sure, lifting weights can increase the size and strength of your muscles, but it's also a crucial form of exercise if you want to lose weight and get lean. Resistance training burns calories while also helping you preserve lean muscle mass. Now that we've established that strength training is king—or shall we say "queen"—we spoke with Katie Kollath, ACE-CPT and co-founder of Barpath Fitness, who shares five strength exercises for women to get firm and lean in their 40s.

"Strength training targets specific muscle groups and activates a large number of muscle fibers within those muscles," Kollath tells us. "By doing any form of resistance training, you put stress on your muscles, which stimulates them to adapt and grow stronger."

Building and preserving muscle mass via strength training can positively affect your metabolic rate. Kollath explains that muscles are "metabolically active tissues," which means they torch a greater number of calories at rest when compared to fat tissue. "By increasing your muscle mass, you boost your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which can aid in fat loss and help you achieve a leaner, more defined physique," she adds.

The best thing about strength training is you can tweak your workouts to highlight certain muscles, such as your abs, legs, arms, or glutes, and select specific exercises that fire up those body parts. "[This can help you] address specific areas of concern and achieve a more sculpted look as well as address any imbalances you may have," Kollath says.

Along with boosting your aesthetic, engaging in strength training comes with plenty of health benefits, like improved joint stability and flexibility, bone density, cardiovascular health, and posture. "These factors contribute to an overall improvement in your physical appearance and well-being," explains Kollath.

So without further delay, let's get into the five best strength exercises for women to get firm and lean in their 40s. And when you're finished, be sure to read about the 5 Exercises Women Should Do Every Day to Stay Fit.

1. Squats

woman bodyweight squats

"This a full-body, compound movement with an emphasis on the lower body," Kollath says. "Squats are one of the most functional movements you can do and will help you build muscle more so than any other movement. Perfect that squat, and you will look pretty damn good!"

To set up for squats, position your feet shoulder-width distance apart. Extend your arms in front of you, keep them at your sides, or place them on your hips. Next, bend your knees, and hinge your hips back as if you're about to sit on a chair. Lower into a squat until your thighs reach a parallel position to the ground or lower. Then, press through both feet in order to stand up. Start with three to four sets of eight to 10 reps.

2. Deadlifts

illustration of dumbbell deadlift, strength exercises for women

"Deadlifts are another full-body strength movement," Kollath says. "You will be engaging pretty much every single muscle in your body when doing deadlifts with an emphasis on the back, glutes, and hamstrings."

To set up, place your feet shoulder-width distance apart, and hold a dumbbell in each hand at the sides of your body. Keep your core tight, hinge your hips back, and lower the dumbbells toward the ground. Then, press through both feet in order to come back up. Aim for three to four sets of six to eight reps of conventional deadlifts to begin.

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3. Overhead Press

dumbbell shoulder press woman at gym, strength exercises for women

According to Kollath, the overhead press is one of "the most functional" upper-body exercises you can possibly do. Pressing the weights overhead will keep your shoulders healthy and help you achieve a round, sculpted look.

To begin, place your feet hip-width distance apart on the ground. Bend your knees just a bit, and hold a dumbbell in each hand up by your shoulders. Your palms should face forward. Then, press the weights up toward the sky until your arms are extended. Bend your elbows in order to lower the weights. Start with three to four sets of eight to 10 reps.

4. Barbell Rows

"Barbell rows are going to work your lats and other back muscles," Kollath tells us. "This will build some great muscle there which will help with the 'V' shape most people are looking for when it comes to sculpting the body."

To begin barbell rows, place your feet shoulder-width distance apart. Squat down to grab the barbell using an overhand grip, positioning your hands wider than your shoulder span. Make sure your back remains straight and your chest tall as you lift the barbell to stand up. Next, engage your core, and press your hips back. Start the rowing motion by rowing the bar up toward your belly button. Then, lower the weight. That completes one rep. Aim for three to four sets of eight to 10 reps.

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5. Kettlebell Pull-Throughs

Kettlebell pull-throughs wrap up Kollath's strength exercises for women. This exercise will activate your core muscles and boost your core stability. "This will build your core strength which will improve your main lifts stated above, but will also help define the midsection (if you're eating in a caloric deficit!)," Kollath says.

To do kettlebell pull-throughs, assume a high plank with a kettlebell situated below your chest, close to the right side of your body. Transfer your body weight onto your right hand as you reach with your left hand to grab the kettlebell and drag it to your left side. Repeat the same motion with your right hand, dragging the kettlebell toward your right side. Start with three sets of eight reps per side.

Alexa Mellardo
Alexa is the Mind + Body Deputy Editor of Eat This, Not That!, overseeing the M+B channel and delivering compelling fitness, wellness, and self-care topics to readers. Read more about Alexa